Breast cancer is a prevalent cause of mortality in women of all ages. Cancer, in general, is believed to have genetic and environmental causes. Breast cancer is associated with fluctuating hormone levels, stress, and other lifestyle factors including smoking.
Interestingly, breastfeeding is one way to counter breast cancer. Research shows that the risk of breast cancer can be reduced significantly in women who choose to breastfeed. Here’s how it works.
1. Postmenopausal Effects
Breastfeeding helps in the release of the hormone oxytocin. In the short term, this reduces bleeding and helps expel the placenta more effectively. Over a longer period, this hormone helps to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer after menopause.
In older women, menopause is a time of massive hormone upheaval. Breastfeeding earlier in life helps balance out the hormones better.1
2. More Breastfeeding, Less Cancer
In a quantitative study on women over time, it was found that women who had more children and in turn spend a longer period breastfeeding them had cancer much less often than women who didn’t. Likewise, it was also observed that as the number of women choosing to breastfeed declined, the rates of incidence of breast cancer increased proportionately.2
3. Breastfeeding’s Effect In Short Term
One study has shown that even just five months of consistent breastfeeding can reduce breast cancer risk by 2 percent. In women who breastfeed their children for up to two years, the risk is consequently reduced by 8-10 percent.
That is a huge upside when it comes to combating cancer, and one worth investing in. Remember this is just an additional benefit. Breastfeeding by itself has huge advantages for the mother and child.3
4. No Link With Age
The benefits of breastfeeding in cancer prevention cross the age barrier. Women of any age who have had children and chose to breastfeed have the advantage of reducing their cancer risk significantly.
In fact, older women who chose to breastfeed had a much lower risk of breast cancer than their younger counterparts.4
5. Hormonal Influence
Breastfeeding acts as a natural contraceptive by increasing the levels of estrogen in the body. This is much the same way by which a hormonal contraceptive pill works –both methods fool the body into thinking that it is already pregnant.
As a result of elevated female hormone levels, it is understood that the risk of breast cancer is reduced significantly, among other health benefits.5
Apart from all the benefits breastfeeding offers to infants, it is also very beneficial for mothers. It helps reduce postpartum bleeding, heals the uterus, reduces the risk of breast cancer as well as postnatal weight gain. It is also an excellent bonding exercise. Reach out to a lactation consultant if you wish to breastfeed but are having trouble with it.
|↑1||León-Cava, Natalia, Chessa Lutter, Jay Ross, and Luann Martin. “Quantifying the benefits of breastfeeding: a summary of the evidence.” Pan American Health Organization, Washington DC (2002).|
|↑2||Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer. “Breast cancer and breastfeeding: collaborative reanalysis of individual data from 47 epidemiological studies in 30 countries, including 50 302 women with breast cancer and 96 973 women without the disease.” The Lancet 360, no. 9328 (2002): 187-195.|
|↑3||Scoccianti, Chiara, Timothy J. Key, Annie S. Anderson, Paola Armaroli, Franco Berrino, Michele Cecchini, Marie-Christine Boutron-Ruault et al. “European code against cancer 4th edition: breastfeeding and cancer.” Cancer epidemiology 39 (2015): S101-S106.|
|↑4||Enger, S. M., R. K. Ross, B. Henderson, and L. Bernstein. “Breastfeeding history, pregnancy experience and risk of breast cancer.” British Journal of Cancer 76, no. 1 (1997): 118.|
|↑5||Layde, Peter M., Linda A. Webster, Andrew L. Baughman, Phyllis A. Wingo, George L. Rubin, Howard W. Ory, and Cancer and Steroid Hormone Study Group. “The independent associations of parity, age at first full-term pregnancy, and duration of breastfeeding with the risk of breast cancer.” Journal of clinical epidemiology 42, no. 10 (1989): 963-973.|